A Switch to Organic Shampoo Really is Worth it
Many of us think of a full head of lustrous, beautiful hair as a crowning glory. Little wonder then that we spend billions a year on various hair care products from shampoo and conditioner to dyes, curlers, strengtheners. We want products that make hair lighter, or darker, or bouncier or flatter. And every day as around the world we pour thousands of gallons of the stuff onto our heads we barely give a moment’s thought to all the chemicals in those products and what they are doing to our bodies or the environment once they go down the drain.
Unless you are already using organic shampoo (and perhaps even if you are) you should take a close look at the list of ingredients on the bottle. You may be more than a little unpleasantly surprised to discover just what you’ve been putting on your hair every morning. For me the answer to the question: “is organic shampoo worth it?” is answered by this list.
National Geographic magazine’s Green Guide has a “dirty dozen” list of chemicals that are commonly found in cosmetics that should be avoided because of health concerns. Listed below are some of the ones that are commonly found in non-organic shampoos.
Coal Tar: This is usually found in dandruff shampoos but is thought to cause cancer.
Parabens: These are widely-used as preservatives in most cosmetic products and many shampoos. They are thought to interfere with the body’s hormone system because they can mimic some natural hormones. They are thought to harm fertility and, according to some scientists, may be connected with breast cancer.
Fragrance (sometimes also called musk or parfum): This is often a way that manufacturers include parabens in the ingredients without having to list them individually.
Sodium Laurlyl Sulphate (SLS): This is the most widespread substance and the odds are almost certain that you will find it in your shampoo. There is even a good chance that you will even find it in organic shampoo. The reason is that it is a really common foaming agent, so anything that foams such as soap, shampoo, baby bubble bath and toothpaste is likely to have it. To be honest, its also not the worst substance in the world but it can irritate the skin, especially in people who already have an underlying condition such as eczema, so it is best avoided for many.
According to some studies there is also a whole bunch of other harmful chemical in many cosmetics that aren’t even listed on the label. In fact they aren’t supposed to be in there at all, but they leach in from the packaging or during sloppy manufacturing and it is allowed to happen because regulators and governments haven’t clamped down properly. Greenpeace, a non-profit environmental group, found some of the following products in shampoo when it investigated:
Phthalates: these are used when making plastic (especially soft, squishy plastic like the sort used in a lot of cosmetic and shampoo bottles) but can leach into shampoo. They reduce fertility in men and women, muck with our hormones and are toxic to unborn children.
Formaldehyde: This stuff is just bad. There is nothing good to say about it. It causes cancer, harms the immune system and irritates the lungs. Somehow it also turns up in shampoo. Go figure.
Switching to organic shampoo
This is a pretty easy switch to make as you won’t really have to sacrifice much because there is a wide range of organic shampoos out there, and the odds are good you will find one that does most of what your current shampoo already does. You do still want to check the label. Even organic products often contain sodium laurlyl sulphate so it is best to look for one labelled SLS-free (and paraben free, while you are at it.) At home we use Jason Organic Shampoo and Organic Conditioner.
It seems to liven up our hair enough (although, in fact, liveliness is not the problem – I wish my hair would behave better by staying down). You can also get some with a bit of henna in it to help give a bit of a touch-up of colour in a natural way. They also produce a dandruff-control organic shampoo, although I’ve not tried it. My previous experiences with Tee-tree oil shampoos for dandruff haven’t been too successful so I end up switching to the chemical stuff when my scalp starts getting uppity.
I’m only writing about these because they are the ones that I know but I’ve heard some great reports about other brands too such as Aveda, which is really popular. These shampoos are generally SLS-free and they company also follows ethical policies when it comes to sourcing its natural products that go into shampoos and also in recycling waste.
Update — I have since switched to using Modern Organic Products (MOP) shampoo. I use the mildest baby version possible. It is great and does not dry my scalp out at all. I also can use it on our two children without any complaints. I don’t usually use conditioner but my wife using MOP conditioner and is more than happy with the results.
Organic conditioner alternatives
Some people swear by using really natural products as conditioners. A common one is pure Jojoba Oil, which is used as a moisturizing and massage oil but which can also be rubbed into the scalp and used as a hair conditioner. I haven’t tried this but I am tempted to given my issues with dry and itchy scalp. Some people also have great success using it as a gentle skin cleanser.
Many brands of shampoo, especially those that are designed to combat skin problems such as dandruft, contain some quite strong chemicals. I know that my old anti-dandruft shampoo had coal tar in it. For many people these sorts of chemicals can really iritate the skin or cause allergic reactions. It seems ironic that they add a substance to shampoo that is meant to help deal with a problem but instead it can make it worse.
If you have a problem with allergies it is probably best to get medical advice. Many brands of organic shampoo are indeed mild enough and soothing enough that they can be used, but your allergy may be to some of the natural products that these contain so it is best try them carefully or ask your doctor before you use them.